Last week, President Trump issued an executive pardon for former Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio, a notorious Arizona official who abused his position to unconstitutionally racially target and detain individuals he suspected of being in the country without proper documentation.
Since 1993, Arpaio has been in the national spotlight as one of the cruelest sheriffs in the country. In addition to illegally stopping, detaining and imprisoning people based on their race and ethnicity, some of whom were American-born citizens, Arpaio ran an outdoor Tent City jail under the hot sun that he himself likened to a “concentration camp.” Prisoners were given inedible food, denied access to newspapers and information, and were forced to live outside without heat or air conditioning. Arpaio also reinstituted chain gangs in his prisons, where prisoners are forced to work and move around while shackled together.
In 2007, Arapaio ordered the arrest of two owners of The Phoenix New Times in their homes after the paper published a story about the county subpoenaing records of readers’ internet searches. The charges were later dropped and the owners successfully sued the county for millions.
From 1996 to 2015 there were 39 suicides in the Maricopa County jail and 157 deaths overall. In addition, the sheriff failed to investigate over 400 sexual assault claims.
After over two decades as sheriff, a federal judge ordered Arpaio to stop illegally detaining people based on their race or ethnicity. When he refused to comply with the federal court order, he was tried and convicted of federal contempt.
Arpaio is a longtime supporter of Donald Trump who for years echoed Trump’s claims that President Obama was not born in the United States. The White House has sweeping Constitutional authority to pardon people convicted of federal crimes, and are not required to provide any legitimate reasons for taking such action.
While other modern Presidents have also exercised pardon power, legal experts have been quick to point out that this is a unique situation, as Trump has consistently been bombastically critical of the judicial system that was responsible for the crack down on Arpaio’s systematic racial intimidation and detention.
Since his inauguration, Trump has been moving forward with his mass deportation agenda, resurrecting a failed Obama-era program that automatically checked the immigration status of anyone booked into local jails. In addition, he issued an order allowing Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Enforcement and Removal Operations office to triple in size, and gave ICE the authority to deputize countless local law enforcement agents to act with the authority of federal officials in arresting and detaining undocumented immigrants as part of ICE’s immigration “task force.”
A February executive order also laid out a strategy for deporting people prior to their trials, allowing anyone who has been in the country for less than two years to be removed immediately, including children who are alone, fleeing violence or seeking family in the United States. The President has also threatened to shut down the government should he not receive funding for his long-promised Mexican border wall in September.
Media Resources: NPR 8/28/17; New York Times 8/27/17; The Journal Gazette 8/29/17; Feminist Majority Foundation 2/21/17